Something to Play With

Whatever we do about space and play companions it is inevitable that play material must be provided. Fortunately there is a booming market in toys – unfortunately they are not all as good or as useful as they might be and careful choice is very important. There is little point in giving lists of manufacturers and suppliers of play equipment. New firms start to operate, old firms change their policy or address. Their stock can change so rapidly in quality, price and content that more up-to-date information is available from their plentiful, beautifully illustrated catalogues. For families with many calls on their communal purse they can be an excellent source of ideas to adapt and copy.

Many parents are good at making toys if not designing them. There is a fair living if not a small fortune awaiting the designer who prepares plans and patterns of equipment and sells them at a reasonable price, since modern materials and tools are more than ever geared to the skills of the amateur handyman. There are some advantages in making toys which are not so obvious as the saving of expense. The parent who makes toys – always with the proviso that they are well made – can extend the range of playthings which can be bought. Even with easy to buy material such as jigsaws there are about eight different stages of difficulty. A child may well exhaust his interest in the one or two which he has at any one stage long before he is ready to move on to the next stage and yet it would seem extravagant to buy more of the same type. Similar games which do not cost a lot of money can be devised to keep him interested and add variety. Some playthings are in fact better made at home -dolls’ clothes and bedding, dressing-up clothes and puppets are good examples of this. They are often stronger and better finished and certainly are more personal since the children themselves may have helped and had a hand in choosing the various details.

Toys and activities are most valuable when they are provided at just the right time. If a parent sees that a child is ready to progress to something new or needs something different to keep his interest there can be delays in finding the right thing, then perhaps ordering and delivery delays, or quite simply the length of time needed to save up the money. The resourcefulness of a parent who can fill this gap immediately means that interest is at a peak. Furthermore resourcefulness is a very valuable trait for children to see as they will imitate this, bringing all kinds of dividends both at this stage and later on. Not all parents can do this kind of hand work, or, to be more accurate, some think they are not able to do it.

Inevitably however there is a limit to what parents can provide, whoever they are and wherever they live. Children grow, therefore their needs change and a succession of toys and equipment is needed – there are few once-and-for-all purchases which will not be outgrown. Equally, within a family situation there can be a wide age range to provide for, from a new baby walker for the smallest, a first bicycle for a five-year-old, football boots and tennis racquets for the oldest, all having to take their place in the claims on a family’s resources. All that most parents can do is to provide the basic necessities.

To decide what these are it is necessary to divide play activities into various categories, although this is a false picture in a sense since all types of play overlap.